Update: This story was updated on November 21, 2023 at 12:45E to add a response from Josh Acevedo regarding the $2,000 campaign contribution.
When Alexsandra Annello announced she was running for the Texas State Representative 77 seat vacated by Lina Ortega, it triggered the Texas resign to run law forcing the city to set an election for the city council District 2 seat on December 9. Four candidates have announced they are seeking to fill Annello’s city council term which expires in December 2024. The four candidates are Joshua Acevedo, Verónica Carbajal, Judy Gutierrez and Ben Mendoza. All four candidates have prior campaign experience, and except for Acevedo none have previously held elected office. Their previous campaign experience allows us to glean likely scenarios between them. The campaign window is short with only three weeks left until Election Day with Thanksgiving week in between. This leaves little time for the candidates to campaign, giving Acevedo, Carbajal and Gutierrez an edge because of name recognition and political networks. Gutierrez, however, lacks name recognition when matched against Acevedo and Carbajal. Carbajal, on the other hand, has significant political capital along with name recognition giving her the edge on December 9.
Benjamin Mendoza previously ran for the El Paso Independent School District 3 school board seat on May 15, 2015. Mendoza, who was first on the ballot received 93 votes (7%) out of 1,315 ballots cast. The three other candidates in the school board race were Cindy Cooper with 104 votes (8%), René Vargas with 482 votes (37%) and Acevedo with 636 votes (48%). Acevedo, who is also running for the District 2 seat in the December 9 ballot went on to defeat Vargas by four votes in the runoff election on June 15, 2019 (574 to 578 votes cast).
With Mendoza’s showing in the school board race and his lack of financial support in the current race, the election to replace Annello in the District 2 city council seat is between Acevedo, Carbajal and Gutierrez. However, a potential campaign contribution to Acevedo may distract his campaign leaving Carbajal and Gutierrez facing off on Election Day.
In the school board race, Acevedo was forced into a runoff election by René Vargas eking out a win by only four votes. With 1,315 ballots cast in that election, Acevedo’s reach among the voters is less than those of his other two opponents, Carbajal and Gutierrez. Although Acevedo can count on his political networking from his school board race, his two opponents, especially Carbajal, have demonstrated the ability to mobilize a larger voter base. Acevedo, however, could become distracted by a campaign violation in his campaign financials.
The Campaign Finance Reports And The Campaign Finance Violation
Joshua Acevedo reported $6,775.00 in campaign contributions in his November 9 report. Acevedo’s largest campaign contribution was for $2,000 from Dualie Properties, Inc. Dualie Properties (0801789492) is a Texas corporation that was registered on May 22, 2013. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, “corporations (including nonprofit corporations)” are not allowed to “make political contributions” to candidates running in a local election. Texas law states that when a corporate campaign contribution is made, it is “a felony of the third degree.”
Acevedo’s largest campaign expense was in printing costs.
We asked Acevedo for comment via email on Friday about the potential violation with the $2,000 contribution he accepted. As of press time he has not responded to our request.
Update: On November 20, after out story was published, Josh Acevedo responded to our request for a comment. In his email response, Acevedo wrote, that the campaign contribution “was an honest mistake…I incorrectly took a corporate check from a supporter and have refunded it.” The Acevedo Campaign filed a corrected affidavit removing the $2,000 campaign contribution.
Verónica Carbajal reported raising $6,490.34 in her Campaign Finance Report filed on November 9. Carbajal spent $2,470.12. Carbajal’s largest contributor was Joseph Valenzuela for $1,000. The next largest contributors were a retired attorney in Florida listed as C. Martin for $500, political consultant Kenneth Bell for $500 and UTEP professor Kathy Staudt for $400. Carbajal’s largest political expenditure was also for printing doorhangers and other political materials.
Judy Gutierrez filed a notice on October 26, 2023 declaring that she does not intend to accept “more than $1,010 in political contributions or make more than $1,010 in political expenditures.” Because of her declaration, Gutierrez is not required to file a Campaign Finance Report unless she spends more than the $1,010 or accepts campaign contributions over that amount.
However, the El Paso Progress PAC filed its Campaign Finance Report on November 9. In the report, the PAC declared that its purpose during this election cycle is in support of Judy Gutierrez’ campaign. The PAC reported $500 in campaign contributions and reported spending $321.92. The $500 contribution to the PAC was made by Mary Karlruher and the PAC’s largest expense was $300 to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Ben Mendoza reported that he has not received any campaign contributions and the only expenditure he reported was the $250 filing fee to run for office.
By The Numbers, Proposition K And Certificates Of Obligation
The latest registered voter census shows that there are 47,742 registered voters in District 2. El Paso News modeled 3,621 likely District 2 voters. These are voters that voted in the May election where Proposition K was on the ballot. Proposition K is not only a linchpin to the election in that it pits a conservative voter base against a progressive agenda, but the climate charter has also become synonymous with Verónica Carbajal.
During the November 14, 2023 El Paso Chamber of Commerce District 2 Forum, Carbajal (46:49) said that it was not a secret she “supported Proposition K,” but that she “was not the brains behind it.” Carbajal added that she believes that the significant voter rejection of Proposition K “was not for El Paso Electric” nor was it “against the climate,” but that “it was a vote out of fear that property taxes would rise.” Carbajal closed by saying that “I see the fear” of higher taxes, adding that “the opposition fed that fear” and that is why voters rejected Proposition K.
Acevedo (46:15) said that he supports climate legislation but disagreed “with the way it was packaged.” Acevedo argued that he wishes that Proposition K had given him the opportunity to vote on climate change separately from the measure’s imposition of how to address it. Acevedo added that “everyone needs to have a voice” in climate legislation going forward.
Gutierrez and Mendoza both opposed Proposition K with Mendoza saying he “voted against it” and Gutierrez saying she “was anti-Prop K.” All the candidates agreed that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed by the city council, but that Proposition K was not the path for addressing it, except for Carbajal who said that voters feared higher taxes with Proposition K.
All the candidates argued that high taxes and the city’s high public debt are issues they would address once elected. All opposed the issuance of non-voter approved certificates of obligations (COs) except for emergencies.
In the chamber’s forum, (33:15) Carbajal said that she would vote for certificates of obligation “in an emergency situation” when asked “under what circumstances would she vote for non-voter approved certificates of obligations.” Carbajal used the 2006 floods as an example to state that a situation like the floods “would be the only one where I would vote to approve a CO.”
However, Carbajal was a member of the El Paso County Hospital District Board of Managers, which oversees the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) when the board voted unanimously on June 14, 2022 “to authorize publication of notice of intention to issue El Paso County Hospital District certificates of obligation.”
Shortly after the UMC board vote, hospital officials asked the county commissioners to issue $345.7 million in certificates of obligation. A petition effort led by the Libre Initiative which submitted about 35,000 signatures to the county commissioners on September 9, 2022 halted the effort to stop the issuance of UMC’s certificates of obligation.
The other candidates all said they would focus on controlling the city’s debt using COs only in an emergency.
The Likely election Scenarios
Two candidates have a public voting history in public office that voters can use to gauge how they will vote on District 2 matters. Acevedo’s EPISD voting record and Carbajal’s voting record on the UMC’s board. All four candidates have previous election experience.
Gutierrez ran for the District 2 office on November 3, 2020 in the same election where Carbajal was seeking the mayor’s seat against Oscar Leeser, the winner, and Dee Margo. In that race, Gutierrez received 8,416 votes to Annello’s 6,618 votes. Annello defeated Gurtierrez in the runoff election for the District 2 seat on December 12, 2020, by 216 votes. Unlike the 2020 election, Gutierrez does not appear to be running a strong campaign this election cycle as she has not raised campaign funds going into Election Day. In the November 2020 contest, District 2 voters cast 24,416 ballots. In the December 2020 run off election, only 5,640 ballots were cast in that race.
Carbajal, on the other hand, came close to making it into a runoff against Oscar Leeser over Dee Margo. Carbajal received 47,299 votes in the 2020 contest giving Carbajal a strong voter base from which to garner votes in the latest contest.
However, that was before her UMC vote on certificates of obligation and her support of Proposition K. Proposition K was defeated overwhelmingly by the voters in May with 4,967 District 2 voters casting a ballot in that election.
Considering the previous elections, it is likely that less than 5,000 voters will turn out of the December 9 election. There are two likely scenarios developing in this race. The first is a runoff election between Carbajal and Gutierrez with Acevedo siphoning votes from Carbajal. However, due to Acevedo’s possible campaign violation which would cause an unnecessary distraction in his campaign during the short window towards Election Day, it is likely that Carbajal will win the District 2 seat without a runoff. Although Gutierrez has a measure of name recognition from her previous campaigns, Carbajal’s name recognition remains stronger. These scenarios will develop further over the next three weeks leading towards the election.
Our voter models suggests that about 56% of the voters will cast their ballots during the early voting period with the rest voting on Election Day. Our data suggests that the typical voter will be a mix if 69% modeled Democrat voters with 29% who we have modeled as Republican voters. As expected, voters who identify as Hispanic/Latino will be present in significant numbers. The largest income bracket will likely be voters who earn less than $50,000 (64%) followed by those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 at 18%. The voters earning over $100,000 in household income will likely be 13% of the electorate that votes on December 9. Only 44% of those likely to cast a ballot are married according to our models.
It is important to understand that the proximity to the holidays of Election Day can skew the modeling as higher income voters have more flexibility to travel for the holidays changing the voter model of the likely voter.
Early voting for the December 9 ballot begins on November 27 and runs through December 5. Election Day is Saturday, December 9.
Readers curious about looking up the voting records of the four candidates can do so on El Paso Votes using their voter registration numbers listed below. You must have a free account on the App to use the advanced search features.
Josh Acevedo: 1145451648
Judy Gutierrez: 1096297724
Verónica Carbajal: 1096687969
Ben Mendoza: 2150980170
Each election cycle, El Paso News publishes the names of the political candidates that the technology company owned by Martín Paredes provides branding and technology services to. Although not required to, we provide this list to our readers for transparency purposes. Clients of Cognent have no influence over the stories we choose to cover. Click here for more details.